World Trade Center Rescue Workers Plagued by Asthma

World Trade Center rescue workers have much higher rates of asthma than the general population. That conclusion comes from a recent analysis of the World Trade Center Health Registry by the New York City Health Department, which found that 3.6 percent of World Trade Center first responders have developed asthma in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s 12 times higher than the rate of asthma in the normal adult population.

About 71,000 rescue workers are enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry. The Health Department surveyed the health records of 25,000 people on the Registry between 2003 and 2004. The study found that asthma rates were highest among rescue workers who arrived at Ground Zero the soonest and stayed the longest. Seven percent of first responders who arrived at the site on September 11 and worked more than 90 days have developed asthma since 2001. The Health Department also found that a World Trade rescue worker’s occupation had little effect on the risk of developing asthma. Fire fighters, police officers, EMS workers and volunteers all had about the same asthma rates. The survey did find that a worker’s location at Ground Zero affected asthma risks. <"">World Trade Center rescue workers who were caught in the dust cloud when the buildings collapsed or worked directly on the debris pile had asthma rates as high as 4.9 percent.

Respirators did offer Ground Zero first responders some protection from the site’s toxic dust. The Health Department found that only 2.9 to 4 percent of workers who wore respirators on September 11 and 12 ended up with asthma. Between 4.5 and 6.3 percent of those who worked at Ground Zero the first two days without respirators developed the disease. But though the respirators appeared to offer some protection, the Health Department found that asthma rates were still higher than the general population in every group of World Trade Center rescue workers it surveyed.

The Health Department study is not the first to show that World Trade Center first responders are plagued with chronic health problems. An earlier study by the Mt. Sinai Medical Center found that of 9,000 emergency workers, 70 percent had suffered some type of lung ailment after the attacks, and that 60 percent still faced respiratory problems. Another report released by the FDNY in early May reported that cases of the rare lung disease sarcoidosis had risen dramatically among firefighters and EMS workers who had spent time at Ground Zero.

And the worst may not be over. The toxic dust that rescue workers were exposed to was filled with dangerous carcinogens like asbestos and dioxin. Public health authorities are already bracing for what might be the next wave of health problems related to the 9/11 tragedy – a surge in cancer and cancer-related deaths among rescue workers. Advocates for the workers estimate that the cost of caring for them could eventually reach $393 million each year, and have asked the federal government to set aside more funds for their treatment and monitoring

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